“One of our great problems today is that we have gotten caught up in our culture-wide quest for authenticity. We want our jeans authentic (pre-ripped at the factory), we want our apples authentic (grown locally instead of somewhere else), we want our music authentic (underground bands nobody ever heard of), we want our lettuce authentic (organically manured), we want our literature authentic (full of angst), we want our movies authentic (subtitles), and we want our coffee tables authentic (purchased from a genuine peasant while we were on some eco-tour). In short, we are a bunch of phonies. We are superficial all the way down.”
Humour is for them the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame. If a man simply lets others pay for him, he is “mean”; if he boasts of it in a jocular manner and twits his fellows with having been scored off, he is no longer “mean” but a comical fellow. Mere cowardice is shameful; cowardice boasted of with humorous exaggerations and grotesque gestures can passed off as funny. Cruelty is shameful—unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke. A thousand bawdy, or even blasphemous, jokes do not help towards a man’s damnation so much as his discovery that almost anything he wants to do can be done, not only without the disapproval but with the admiration of his fellows, if only it can get itself treated as a Joke.
C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters
Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!”
I have always loved The Far Side. I think Gary Larson is an insane comedic genius. Yesterday, while I was helping my wife re-organize some boxes, I came across a Far Side collection I forgot I had and became very distracted.
The collection I was reading was called The Prehistory of The Far Side: A 10th Anniversary Exhibit where Larson comments on some of his cartoons and gives background information like what was going on in his mind when he wrote it, why he thought it was funny, and some readers’ responses to them. I find it absolutely fascinating. And laugh-out-loud hilarious.
He mentions his famous cartoon titled “Cow Tools.” In the early 1980’s, I read, this cartoon stirred a response Larson had never imagined. People wrote him begging for the meaning behind it, saying they had asked everyone they knew to try and identify its punchline, but to no avail. Gary Larson says he regretted writing the cartoon afterward, saying that it wasn’t funny; it was pointless. For months after “Cow Tools” he wanted to hide under his desk and avoid people seeking answers. He also feared he might lose his job as a cartoonist. Nevertheless, later, he acknowledged that all the outcry “Cow Tools” created actually bolstered his career.
Here’s the cartoon:
A blogger said:
What do you make of “Cow Tools?” Questions beckon.
The cow itself is very zen, very much in the moment. This is an in-your-face, right now cow. He looks at you directly, confronting you straight on with his own goofy existence as if to say, “Here I am, a being that makes no sense, yet here I am. Deal with it.”